Editorial: Pain and hopefully progress

By |2003-10-23T09:00:00-04:00October 23rd, 2003|Uncategorized|

Organizations have a life cycle, not unlike people do, and for both the “teen/adolescent” phase can sometimes be the hardest.
The Ruth Ellis Center has apparently reached organizational puberty, and it’s not pretty. The founding board of directors and staff have all worked tirelessly to put together a great program for homeless LGBT youth. This year, REC finally got enough funding secured to hire its first executive director. After two months on the job however, Grace McClelland, the new executive director of REC, is experiencing a 100 percent staff turnover and a noisy protest from some former staffers and volunteers.
For most non-profit organizations, the first executive director hire is one of the most difficult hurdles. The board must step back and let the new executive director run the day-to-day operations. Any existing staff has to learn to take direction from a new boss. And the new executive director has to navigate through history and personalities that they did not bring to the table.
Dr. Whitney Harris, director of diversity and affirmative action at Eastern Michigan University, has studied non-profit organizational development issues for years. He said that in any organization, if the board has made a good decision in choosing the new executive director, and if the board knows its new role, then the organization can often have a resurrection and things often turn out better. “As painful as that sounds, the executive director is in charge and they may not need the same staff members anymore, and that is OK,” said Harris.
Other organizations in the LGBT community have experienced similar growing pains when they have brought on new staff. Affirmations Lesbian Gay Community Center, The Triangle Foundation and Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project each experienced problems when new directors were hired, either for the first time or to replace an outgoing director. It’s part personality, part organizational development, and it is always highly emotional.
People come to community work because they have a passion for it. They give hours of time, money, and all of their best intentions to create something where nothing existed before. It’s that passion that is the birth-fire of organizations. It is completely understandable, and should be expected, that the founders feel an ownership, much like a birth parent feels about their child.
Unfortunately, for an organization or for any person to grow, founders/parents have to let go. It takes a different skill set to manage an organization than to found one. Even in settings where the board and remaining staff members know they need more skilled management, that is quite a different thing than having the capacity to accept new demands for accountability of time and resources. It is an inherent conflict.
We know this is extremely painful for all the individuals involved in this crisis at REC. There is no way for them to not feel that this is personal, and that is an excruciating feeling. If the board has chosen the right person as the new executive director, and if the board can function well in its new role now that an executive director is in place, then this time will be later viewed as a tough period of growing pains. We hope that the individuals and the organization are up to this challenge, mostly for the sake of LGBT youth in Detroit who so desperately need the services provided by REC.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.